Our Readers’ Recommendations

College summer reading programs are growing in popularity. All schools in the UNC system have such programs for incoming freshmen and transfers students. The program at UNC-Chapel Hill is representative of the entire system, and in recent articles I found plenty about the program to criticize.

But it’s one thing to complain and another to come up with better ideas, so the Pope Center writers all provided a reading program of their own two weeks ago. And we realized that we had left one incredible resource still untapped: our readers. So we asked for your suggestions, and got them.

There was one striking difference between the two groups of programs—our readers appear to be a lot tougher than we are! That is, they have a greater sense of urgency to impart knowledge or to expose students to a particular world view. In contrast, three of the four Pope Center writers restricted their book selections to works of fiction. As Jenna Ashley Robinson wrote, they viewed summer reading programs as a means to “foster in students a lifelong love of reading and learning,” as well as a means to educate.

Our readers frequently chose weightier non-fiction works. Reader James Atkins Pritchard’s program (see below) is characteristic of this tendency: from his four selections, it is obvious that he wants to make sure students graduating from any college that implemented his program shared a firm grounding in the roots of Western civilization.

Yet every single book chosen by either a Pope Center writer and reader has one thing in common: its contents are far more valuable than this year’s selection for the Carolina Summer Reading Program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Even reader Kent Misegades’ suggestion not to have a summer reading program at all has more merit than getting students to read boring books with bad ideas.

So, without further ado, here are your suggestions. We at the Pope Center salute your ideas and effort.

The James Atkins Pritchard Summer Reading Program

Reader James Atkins Pritchard wants to familiarize students with the ideas of the past before they tackle the ideas of the present.

I propose one fixed mandatory text for each of the four years. All four selections are texts of supreme merit that experience has shown very frequently make a strong impression on students and generate the sorts of discussion that are at once both educative and productive of community. Of course it would be exceedingly difficult in most institutions to get such a program approved. But here they are anyway:

  • Freshman year: The Iliad by Homer.
  • Sophomore year: The Republic by Plato.
  • Junior year: The Confessions of St. Augustine.
  • Senior year: The Divine Comedy (yes, all of it) by Dante Alligheri.

The Bruce W. Stewart Summer Reading Program

Dr. Bruce W. Stewart is the president of ExecuRead, an international organization dedicated to the improvement of advanced reading and information management skills training. His selections offer an antidote to academic rhetoric that emphasizes only the positive aspects of globalization.

Whenever I talk with students about discretionary reading, I get asked whether it counts for academic grade points or not. It seems that grade points are the be-all and end-all of a student’s life. My response is usually “No, school will not grade you on whether you read or not, but life will.”

In this country, students have an even greater responsibility than their counterparts to expand their knowledge in the rest of the world. America is THE dominant force in the world, politically, militarily and economically, and today’s students are tomorrow’s decision-makers. And the question is whether they will make decisions based upon wisdom or ignorance. While “Smart” might be finding the one right answer to life’s multiple-choice questions, “Intelligent” is our ability to creatively invent a totally new solution, signifying not only total knowledge, but also the ability to think outside the “box.”

In my view, summer reading programs should be mandatory for all students. The acquisition of knowledge outside the school curriculum should not be optional. Reading should be an essential component of any student’s life. Some students realize this and are already serious readers. If others are too lazy or too dumb to realize their responsibilities as future custodians of this planet, it is our responsibility, as educators, to educate them.

Here are my recommendations:

  • The Covenant by James Michener.
    A fascinating and beautifully written historical novel about South Africa and how a nation of fundamentalist Christians entered into a covenant with God and created apartheid in God’s name—a system of laws aimed at keeping South Africa under white Christian domination. Strong parallels may be drawn between these fundamentalists and the modern-day Islamic fundamentalists who have similar objectives.
  • The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman.
    A siren call for America to wake up and pay attention. There are no longer any borders or boundaries behind which Americans may seek refuge. Information is in the ether and it is bought and sold to everyone everywhere. Regulated American companies are competing with unregulated sweat-shops in China. American students are competing with students in China, India, Pakistan and Korea who are willing to work harder for less. When this book was published, a well-known CEO handed a copy to each of his directors and ‘suggested’ that they read it or resign.
  • Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War against Americaby Kenneth Timmerman. A disturbing book. But also enlightening. America is at war. But it’s a war fought by few Americans and ignored by many who have their firmly planted in the sand, which is why we are so shocked and horrified when things like 9/11 happen. Essential reading to understand why the Islamic fundamentalists want to kill us.

The Arch T. Allen Summer Reading Program

Arch Allen is a lawyer in Raleigh, North Carolina, and board chairman of the Pope Center. His selection indicates a desire to impose some depth of thought and judgment on incoming students, before they are exposed to professors with easy but superficial answers.

Deepak Lal’s Reviving the Invisible Hand: The Case for Classical Liberalism in the Twenty-first Century (Princeton University Press, 2006, 236 pages of text) will help students understand the current global economic order and its historical precedents of 19th century classical liberalism and 20th century economic interventionism. It will challenge students to think critically about global capitalism and its anti-capitalist and anti-Western critics. It will expose them to interdisciplinary studies–combining history, economics, culture, morality, and environmental concerns–for deciding what policies to favor for the 21st century. Lal was educated in India and served as an economist at the World Bank. He now holds a named professorship in international development studies at UCLA.

The Nathanael Snow Summer Reading Program

Nathanael Snow, a PhD. candidate in economics at George Mason University and North Carolina State University graduate, provides an eclectic list of books that includes both heavy lifting and fun.

  • The Myth of the Rational Voter by Bryan Caplan.
    Gives public choice economists reason to pause.
  • Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas.
    The “emerging church” movement at the fringes of evangelical Christianity owes a great deal to what is becoming known as the “Hauerwas Mafia.”
  • The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek.
    Inspiration to Reagan ,Thatcher, and generations of serious thinkers. This book has single-handedly kept the conservative movement from fading away for nearly four decades.
  • The Mainspring of Human Progress by Henry Grady Weaver.
    The one book on history or economics everyone should read, and anyone can read. Said one successful businessman who recently read it, “It has changed my life.”
  • Heretics by G.K.Chesterton.
    One may read Chesterton to preserve one’s sanity and to test one’s intellect, or merely to sharpen one’s wit. Either way it is always fun. Perhaps the most neglected author in all of English literature, Chesterton is a must.

The D.G. Martin Summer Reading Program

D.G. Martin is the host of UNC-TV’s “North Carolina Bookwatch.” He is a retired lawyer, politician, and university administrator. His submission is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared in his weekly newspaper column, “One on One.” His comment highlights one of my complaints about the UNC program: there is a lack of concentration on great ideas, great events, and great individuals.

Here is my nomination for every college or university that sponsors a campus-wide book for students and faculty to read and discuss together: Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age by Arthur Herman.

I will explain why the new book is perfect for campus-wide discussion. And then, sadly, I will tell you why few, if any, campuses will pick it.

Gandhi & Churchill tells how the lives of these two very different inspirational figures intersected during the turbulent times that led to the break-up of the British Empire—and left us, their successors, with a host of challenges.

Examples of discussion topics are: racism and racial pride; benevolent colonialism and the oppression that accompanied it; nonviolence and hard-nosed big power politics; the dangers of appeasement and the strategic advantages of accommodation to the reasonable aspirations and demands of opponents; the conflicting imperatives of global economic development against the spiritual advantages of local village life.

There is more: the clash of cultures; the role of accidents and luck in the course of history; good and evil men—and the enormous influence of powerful leadership in shaping vents.

Churchill believed that India was an essential part of the British Empire. He believed that British rule had brought stability and order to a people of more than 250 million inhabitants composed of an untold variety of languages, castes and religions, and that without this imposed order India would fall victim to disorder and violence as its various groups competed for domination. He proudly believed in the superior qualities of the Anglo-Saxon peoples and the importance of stern and forceful rule.

Gandhi trained as a British lawyer in London. He believed that the principles of English law required that Indian subjects of the British King be entitled to equality, self-government, and their own superior culture. He thought that the most effective weapon to gain those objectives for India was through nonviolent resistance.

As the two men became leaders of their respective peoples, the conflict between Gandhi’s determination to achieve self-government and equality and Churchill’s belief that India must remain subject to British rule led to their bitter rivalry. That rivalry provides the backdrop to Herman’s saga of the breakup of the British Empire.

Although I would be delighted if UNC-Chapel Hill chooses this book for its summer reading program next year, it is a long shot. The author’s politics tilt conservative. For instance, he is an articulate supporter of the war in Iraq. So his book, as genuinely “fair and balanced” as it is, would be a tough sell in Chapel Hill and in many university communities.

I hope I am wrong. Gandhi & Churchill would be a great book for campus-wide discussion.

The Kent Misegades Non-Reading Summer Program

In an earlier article, I suggested that, if UNC is serious about its summer reading program, the school should make participation mandatory, or, if it is not serious, then it should end the program. Kent Misegades, a resident of Cary, North Carolina, and a trustee of the Thales Academy in Apex, recommends the latter approach.

My suggestion of a summer program is a bit different:

  1. Spend the summer working hard to save for college instead of taking out a student loan. Finishing college debt-free will do far more for a student’s future than reading a book chosen by a Marxist professor at UNC.
  2. List all the books read in the past one month on the college application. If the number is zero, cause for immediate rejection of the application. If one or more, must be at least 100 pages in length and written for someone with a 12th-grade education. Books on NASCAR or Hollywood stars or tattoos do not count.

Personally I think that such assignments are an insult to a competent young adult starting college. Such things might however be appropriate for a kid entering high school. They should be at the level of Jules Verne or Mark Twain, or else the Bobbsey Twins or some other wholesome, uplifting story that will make kids happy.

The John Hubisz Summer Reading Program

Reader John Hubisz wants to make sure young people understand that our American society is both good and fragile.

The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism by Michael Novak.
Is Capitalism immoral? Why did North America and South and Central America discovered by the West at about the same time develop so differently?

How Democracies Perish by Jean-Francois Revel.
Democracies are not set up to combat invasions from within. They tend to believe that their enemies are rational and rational argument will win out, but our enemies are not rational and we need to learn to fight internally without destroying ourselves.

The Nancy Margolis Summer Reading Program

Last but not least, Nancy Margolis, who not only taught English at N.C.State University but directed State’s famed grammar hotline, offers a couple of her favorites.

Students in my program will be required to read not one book, but two:

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
The Little Book of Plagiarism by Richard A. Posner

Krauss’s book is irresistible and charming; Posner’s, intellectually challenging. Any student who cannot find anything smart to say about the pair ought not to be allowed to matriculate.